Friday, 1 June 2012

Build the Enterprise

Frustrated by the lack of manned space exploration during my adult life, I was delighted to come across a web site called "Build the Enterprise".

Someone called "Dan" has spent a huge amount of time on this, producing not only a visually pleasing web site, but a pretty well-reasoned business and engineering analysis of what it would take to put a craft resembling Star Trek's USS Enterprise into operation.

As he says:

Personally, I have found working as an engineer to be very rewarding. The work is interesting, the pay is good, your co-workers are bright and enthusiastic, and the unemployment rate in engineering typically runs under 3% – far below the national average for all workers. For these reasons I hope that some young people find a bit of inspiration in this website, and that this might even help motivate some to study engineering in college.

and in spite of the frustrations of working life and having to deal with unenthusiastic and over-bureaucratic managers, in general I would agree with him.

Just build the Enterprise!  (Credit unknown)

OK - they haven't quite perfected all the details of warp drive yet, but I think they can be forgiven for that.

They claim that this whole project could be completed in just 20 years, at the very reasonable price of US$1 trillion.  At the end of that time the ship would be able to carry a crew of 1000 people on voyages around the solar system.

To quote from the page about the mass and cost of the ship:

For researching, developing, constructing, testing, and supplying the USS Enterprise, along with putting in place the infrastructure on earth and in space needed to support the Enterprise, the cost goal for the Gen1 Enterprise is this: it will cost no more than $1 trillion spent over twenty years.

The Enterprise will be built entirely in space. Thus each component must be launched from earth. This is expensive, and around 35% of the Gen1 Enterprise program budget will be to pay for heavy lifter launch costs (when including both non-recurring costs and recurring costs). These launches will transport not only the Enterprise components into space but also test hardware, Enterprise supplies, and various items needed for space infrastructure.

At the bottom of this webpage is a table showing the detailed cost goals for all components, supplies, infrastructure, and heavy lifter launches for deploying the Gen1 Enterprise. Also included are detailed mass goals for everything making up the operational Enterprise spaceship. But before going into these details, first the overall mass of the ship and its most basic systems needs more discussion.
For the overall wet mass of the Gen1 spaceship Enterprise, a goal is needed. For setting this goal, it’s desirable to be able to tie the goal to some reference point, to something concrete and easy to keep in mind. So we will set the goal as this: Its wet mass (meaning that when the propellant tanks are fully filled) will be no more than the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise back here on earth which weighs 187 million pounds (84,822 metric tons).

The 187 million pound goal may seem arbitrary, but this is not really so. Early roll-ups for estimating the Gen1 Enterprise’s mass were coming in around 200 million pounds. The amount of propellant needed was nearly 100 million pounds of this. As a goal it is very desirable to reduce the amount of propellant needed as a percentage of total ship wet mass because this saves cost and ship mass. Also, reducing propellant as a percentage of the total ship mass frees up room in the mass budget for other ship components. This desire to reduce propellant as a percentage of the ship’s mass creates a program goal for engines to use propellant more efficiently meaning that each engine should have a much higher high specific impulse than typical ion propulsion engines today. So after removing some propellant from a 200 million pound ship mass, 187 million pounds seems like a reasonable goal.

To gain some perspective on a mass of 187 million pounds, consider that a Saturn 5 rocket had a wet mass before launch of 6.6 million pounds. Thus the Gen1 Enterprise will have a wet mass equivalent to 28 Saturn 5 rockets. This is quite large, but it’s also comprehendible [sic]. The Enterprise is a big ship, and if its mass is the same as 28 Saturn 5 rockets, that seems about right.

Good luck to the Enterprise.  Can I book a ticket please? Wouldn't a project like this be just the sort of thing that could encourage an upsurge in the economy and make humanity believe in itself again?

I for one would trade in the Olympic games for the next 20 years as a contribution towards it!

1 comment:

John Chapman said...

Of course building a space elevator first would reduce costs considerably. Let's build that first.